Uniting Church calls for an end to boat turn-backs

asylum seeker boat
Uniting Church in Australia President Mr Stuart McMillan has expressed disappointment that Labor may adopt boat turn-backs as part of its asylum seeker policy.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten declared his support for boat turn-backs during an interview with ABC’s 7:30.

“Labor wants to defeat the people smugglers and we want to prevent drownings at sea,” Mr Shorten told 7.30.

“I can no longer escape the conclusion that Labor, if we form a government, needs to have all the options on the table.”

The policy reversal comes ahead of the Labor National Conference held in Melbourne this weekend. Mr Shorten’s push to incorporate boat turn-backs into Labor’s asylum seeker policy is expected to face stiff opposition from the party’s left faction. Federal Labor MPs such as Andrew Giles and Anna Burke have publicly stated their opposition to boat turn-backs.

Mr McMillan said boat turn-backs undermine the development of a genuinely regional protection solution.

“We have been calling on the government to stop boat turn-backs and are extremely disappointed to hear that the ALP may be taking on this policy,” Mr McMillan said.

“We believe that the only way to stop people getting on boats is to ensure that they are safe where they are. Turning back the boats does nothing to improve Australia’s reputation in the region and undermines the work that needs to be done to find a truly regional solution that protects vulnerable asylum seekers.”

The Uniting Church adopted a new refugee and asylum seeker policy titled Shelter from the Storm at the 14th Assembly last week.

The policy affirms the Church’s commitment to advocate for refugee and asylum seeker rights and condemns the policy of boat turn-backs.

“Under international maritime law it is illegal to stop boats in international waters and then forcibly transport these boats or their passengers through international waters without their informed consent,” the statement said.

“Forced tow-backs and military escorts out of Australian waters also contravene our obligations under the Refugee Convention.”

The Justice and International Mission unit is calling on Uniting Church members to contact their local Labor MP and Senators ahead of the National Conference this weekend. This year’s conference is the first time in several decades that no single faction controls a majority of delegates and voting on boat turn-backs is predicted to be tightly contested.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre has an email template that supporters can use to message their local Labor MP and Senator.

Image by Adrian via Flickr.

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3 Responses to “Uniting Church calls for an end to boat turn-backs”

  1. john Cranmer


    How easy is it to make a lie a widely-accepted half-truth?

    Just have people in power and strategically-placed media outlets
    repeat it often enough with little to no opportunity to refute.

    What of the lie we are coming to accept about asylum seekers?
    “Coming here without a visa is illegal and must be punished”.

    Here are some in the highest office repeating time and time and time
    again and again and again these pernicious mantras.

    Do they now believe their own lies these people of vindictive idiocy?

    How easily we become a blind-eyed culture of forgetting
    falling into a pervasive atmosphere of intolerance as an unthinking way of life.

    Make their lives bitter scramble their brains for ever
    take away their personhood
    make them unperson scarecrows in a toxic Limboland!

    And in the process make Australians more than a little less human

    john Cranmer

  2. Geoff Heaviside

    Labour voters, even those for whom Refugees was not on their radars previously, are concerned with the quality of present political and public debate on asylum seeker and refugee policy. I am one such elector.
    Let’s be clear that every death at sea is a tragedy. No one wants to see refugees die in their attempt to escape death by persecution or starvation or drowning on their way to or from Australian waters but let’s be honest the arguments to date are hypocritical on both sides of politics and the citizens are becoming annoyed.
    We want to see the abolition of the current regime of cruel and inhumane measures.
    There are still 215 children being held in Australian detention centres, including 88 on Nauru, several of whom are babies. I am requesting that you use the Conference to ensure your party does a better job at protecting these children from abuse, by improving conditions and fighting for the release of all children in detention.
    Instead we want to see a government implementing initiatives that make us proud to be Australian.
    We want high quality policies and programs that acknowledge the humanity of all the people affected, give protection to those with legitimate claims, provide honest and ethical leadership to strengthen Australian democracy, fulfil our international obligations and that are cost effective in their use of resources.
    The political and public debate around asylum seekers and refugees is a quagmire.
    There is a democratic deficit in the current debate. It is also emotionally charged which frequently demolishes any prospect for calm and sensible discussion.
    The electors are fed up with the smokescreen of secrecy, lies, deceit and false propositions to justify cruel and punitive measures as a deterrence.
    Asylum seekers do not represent a threat to Australia’s sovereignty as much as the provisions of the Trans Pacific Partnership which the coalition is intent on pushing through the Parliament.
    If we truly wanted to stop the boats there are several alternatives which would produce a much more effective solution, be less damaging to the affected people, be cheaper to implement and operate and would not involve the flouting of international law. It offends Indonesia, human rights obligations together with adverse impacts on Navy and Customs service morale and professional standards. This all adds up to a rather heavy bill to pay for the Government’s claimed success in deterring boats.
    Australia does not have, nor ever has had, a crisis on our borders. Australia hosts about one tenth of one percent of the world’s refugee population. Of the nearly 14 million refugees (and rising) around the world Australia is home to only about 15,000.
    That is not much for a country with one of the lowest population densities and the world’s 13th largest economy. Australia must recognise that this is a global problem that no country can solve on its own. It must work together with other countries, especially those in our region to find a robust, durable and humane response. No person chooses to be a refugee. It is usually only under great duress and much reluctance that a person chooses to flee his or her home country. The pressures leading to such a decision are so far beyond the experience of most Australians and dare I say most political representatives that we can never claim to understand those decisions and the perils that people have already faced before getting on a boat.

  3. Neil Tolliday

    I hope that the mainstream Australian churches’ leadership on the issue of humane treatment for asylum seekers will eventually bring about change in the unjust and cruel policies espoused by the Coalition and the ALP. I feel that it’s time for a civil disobedience campaign of refusal to pay taxes to Federal government for on water strategies which are shrouded in secrecy. Furthermore, the hell-holes of Nauru and Manus must be closed, and the detainees brought to safety on mainland Australia.